Birds of a Feather

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December started with a show-off of a full moon, rising just behind our big oak to illuminate a rough lace of branches.

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Then, as winter showed its intention to stay, I headed to Florida for a week.

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Any visions I had of fun in the sun were abruptly quashed.

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After a first busy morning when I was unable to get outside to enjoy the warmth, the wind whipped up, a front moved in, and the temperature plummeted.

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Even the hibiscus flowers were tattered at the edges by the cold and wind.

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The rest of the week, until the morning I left (of course) remained unusually frigid for Florida.

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Pelican ornaments.  The most mature ones are highest in the tree.

Whether weather-related or not, the underwater dock light was packed with feeding fish all week, but they weren’t the usual snook, who lurked sluggishly around the edges. The snook were displaced by raucous hordes of ladyfish, darting about as if on vacation, eating everything at the buffet. Our friend who has been fishing at the dock for decades, said he’d never seen anything like such masses of ladyfish before. They are too bony for good eating, but were fun to watch.

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There are compensations to cold weather in Florida.

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Almost empty beach.

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One bird.

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And plenty of shells.

Mostly, everyone (but a few loony Northerners) stays inside.

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Well-insulated surfers.

Since Florida’s population is booming to the point of congested agitation to me, I enjoyed an almost empty jetty and beach.

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On the other hand, the birds also made themselves scarce. With the exception of an osprey couple nesting at the marina, which seemed to be everywhere, eep-eep-eeping as they patrolled for fish and did whatever else ospreys do.

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But at the jetty, there were only one or two anhingas and a few pelicans.

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Fortunately for me, I love anhingas and pelicans.

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They fascinate me and photographs reveal the details of feather, feet, and beak that can’t be properly appreciated with normal eyesight.

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The week of cold was accompanied by high, cutting winds.

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Those winds whipped up feathers, drawing my attention to the different feather types and patterns of these birds.

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Brown pelicans are common as dirt in Florida and from a distance they are attractively prehistoric looking.

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But with the camera’s lens, their feathers are transformed into things of subtle textured stunning beauty.

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As for the anhingas, these ordinary looking birds likewise transform into feathery splendor when they spread their wings to dry, looking like birdy sentinels until they start grooming.

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Then their long necks perform sinuous gymnastics, reaching every part of their bodies in seemingly impossible contortions.

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Anhingas swim underwater for long stretches and, curiously, some of their feathers remind me of otter fur.

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A few years ago, I took photos of a male anhinga in mating season in late January, when they develop green circles around its eyes.

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Apparently December is too early for mating because the only anhinga braving the cold on this trip had brilliantly red eyes, with no green circles. I believe this one was a female.

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For the first few days, I saw no egrets at the jetty, but on my last morning, a whole line of them were fishing.

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Their feathers used to be used to adorn hats.  Gorgeous they are, but much better on the bird.

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Just Birds (Beach, Birds, Rehab, and … Plans, part 2)

IMG_6221This is a second part of the post “Beach, Birds, Rehab, and … Plans,” but it’s just birds. If you don’t like bird photos, you will be yawning big time on this one.

For me, St. Simons meant birds.  They were everywhere—on the beach, in the marsh, in our neighborhood, and in the village.  IMG_6026They fluttered, called, preened, sang, strutted, fished, hammered, and, at times seemed to pose.  IMG_5412Many nights, we were kept awake by two owls calling back and forth from the dense live oaks in the neighborhood (go to sleep, already!!).

Every morning, the tentative bits of bird song signaled that—although it was still dark—the sun was about to rise.  All day long, their calls accompanied us—the cardinals’ rhythmic chip and liquid song, the doves’ oo-oo, IMG_6478the sparrows’ chatter, and the ospreys’ skreeee—eek, causing the marsh birds to scatter—flying up, circling around, and settling back down.    IMG_6705

The trees and bushes were heavy with berries—especially the red cedar—and attracted a wide variety of birds, fussing and gorging, but elusive to catch on film.IMG_6676IMG_6671

The shore birds were more stolid, hunkered down against the cold or pecking at critters in the sand and waves.  IMG_5369IMG_5378IMG_7497They only became skittish if I got close, so we played a cat and mouse game where I would learn how close I could approach before they took off and moved another ten feet down the beach.

The salt inlet at the end of the beach was a feeding mecca for a variety of birds scooping up the little minnows and larger mullet.   IMG_7531 IMG_7539This elegant beauty (I assume it’s a tern or gull, but don’t know what kind … I’ll call it the blackdot cheeky terngull) did a beautiful fluttering hover and dive, over and over again.  IMG_7521IMG_7508IMG_7501During our last week on the island, this oystercatcher couple appeared on the rocks.  One sported multiple bands, the other none.  The banded one must be older or stupider, or both.  IMG_7651IMG_7567

On St. Simons, a quiet road runs along the marsh, so it’s easy to get close to the birds without having to worry about being attacked by snakes, gators, or bugs.    IMG_6311IMG_7576IMG_6757IMG_7583IMG_7694IMG_7682

Just birds–but such a variety–interesting, noisy, colorful, entertaining, awkward, graceful, and beautiful.

Look carefully to see the fish this osprey is holding in his talons.

Look carefully to see the fish this osprey is holding in his talons.

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A Day in Venice (Florida, not California, and certainly not Italy)

IMG_5563My grandparents discovered Venice, Florida in the 1950s.  It was a sleepy town on the Gulf coast, frequented by snowbirds, driving down from New England, the Midwest, and Canada for the winter months.  I visited there almost every winter when I was growing up in the 1960s, getting horrific sunburns that peeled for weeks, collecting black fossilized sharks’ teeth on the beach, and ogling the tattooed circus people around town.  Venice then was the winter home of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.  The Flying Wallendas and Gunther Gebel-Williams, the “lion tamer,” were local celebrities.

The sun and sharks’ teeth remain, but the circus is long gone.  Of course, Venice is much more developed and crowded now.

A 1959 view of Snake Island near the Venice jetty.

A 1959 view of Snake Island near the Venice jetty.

What is left of Snake Island today.

What is left of heavily-eroded Snake Island today.

But it retains some of its former charm.  It has a palm-lined downtown area, with 1920s architecture, full of shops, restaurants, and well-off retirees.  Even though I now am retired, I continue to view Venice as a place full of OLD people, just as I did when I was a child.  Everyone seems to be in some stage of old age, from the fit, tennis-outfitted newly-retired, to bent-over ancients holding up checkout lines as, with glacial slowness, their arthritic, shaking fingers pick out each penny and dime for exact payment.  Sightings of children are rare.

We headed to Venice this week for a quick visit with my 91-year-old mother, who has lived there for many years.  It was a six hour drive each way from St. Simons and we only had three days (between physical therapy sessions) for the trip.  We arrived to a sunset, with blue clouds massing over the Gulf, resembling a distant mountain range.

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The next day—our one full day there—was glorious and sunny, with a mild breeze.  My mother doesn’t venture too far afield these days, but every morning takes a leisurely walk down to the jetties, picking up litter as she goes.

The Venice jetty usually has power walkers, fishers, and a variety of birds.  This day was no different.

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That’s Nokomis on the north side of the inland waterway, with its own jetty

The most striking birds were the anhingas perched on the jetty rocks drying their wings.  They are amazing underwater swimmers, but their feathers become waterlogged, so they spend a great deal of time drying and grooming them.

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IMG_5557Their eyes develop bluish green rings in mating season, which must be in full swing given these colors.

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Neither people nor birds were catching many fish. Instead, the birds seemed to be taking advantage of the sun and wind for extensive grooming.

This pelican did a thorough grooming

This pelican went through huge grooming contortions

and then settled in

and then settled in.

Egret

Egret

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IMG_5626IMG_5613On the way home we watched this big pelican perched very high in an Australian pine. He looked like a pterodactyl.

IMG_5685Back at the house, we watched the birds in the yard and the ospreys nesting on a nearby channel marker.

Doves perched high in a palm

Doves perched high in a palm

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Osprey nest with the twin jetty in Nokomis in the distance

Osprey nest with the twin jetty in Nokomis in the distance

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We toured the yard and its flowers.

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And sat and watched the boats go by.

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Zoe napped in the shade

After dinner out, we returned to the tail end of another glowing sunset.

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It was followed by the appearance of the moon—just a sliver—and Venus, lingering over the marina.

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